Many people picture Vermont with handsome barns overlooking rolling pastures, white country churches punctuating hillsides of blazing maples, and small villages clustered around gracious greens. While not inaccurate, this image does little justice to the architectural richness of a state that retains so significant a variety of building types, landscapes, and historic environments that it was declared a national historic treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Here is a seasonal sampling of places worth a look, drawn from Buildings of Vermont by Glenn Andres and Curtis Johnson (whose photographs also enhance the text), the latest volume in the Buildings of the United States series published by the Society of Architectural Historians and the University of Virginia Press.
Trapp Family Lodge
1983, Burley Partnership. 700 Trapp Hill Road, Stowe, Lamoille County
The sprawling lodge that is the centerpiece of the twenty-seven-hundred-acre Trapp resort gives Stowe an unabashedly Alpine image in a landscape characterized by the farmhouse vernacular of its nineteenth-century hill agriculture, the Adirondack rusticity of its summer camps, and the early modernism of its emergent ski industry. Unlike the fantasy invention of Sun Valley’s 1936 Bavarian Village, the Trapp imagery is authentic, if out of context.
On a break from a concert tour in 1942, the famous singing family summered in Stowe and decided to settle here, establishing what the public perceived as a direct Alpine association. The family bought and remodeled a run-down farm on Luce Hill and ultimately attached a twenty-room Tyrolean chalet, reminiscent of their grandmother’s home in Austria, to the kitchen wing of the old farmhouse. After running a summer music camp in a nearby CCC barracks and renting rooms to winter visitors, the family decided to open their home as a lodge in 1950. When the original building was lost to fire in 1980, they commissioned Vermont’s Burley Partnership to design a replacement three times the size of the original but with the same distinctive character. The new lodge is two-and-a-half stories with natural siding and broad wood-shingled roof slopes punctuated by gabled dormers and deep eaves that shelter expansive balconies. Beneath its picturesque gable belfry and gingerbread balustrade cutouts, however, the horizontality of the eaves and galleries, the deep pent gables, and the massive chimneys display a kinship with the Prairie School of Frank Lloyd Wright. This is no surprise since a few years after completing the Trapp lodge, Robert Burley became the executive director of the Taliesin Preservation Commission in Wisconsin.
Goddard College (Greatwood Farm)
1908, James T. Kelly; Arthur A. Shurcliff, landscape; 1920s garden house; 1938, Jens F. Larson and Freeman, French, Freeman; 1971, John Mallery and David Sellers. 123 Pitkin Road, Plainfield, Washington County
The campus of Goddard College occupies the former Greatwood estate built for Willard S. Martin. A Plainfield native turned Boston industrialist, Martin expanded and developed his family’s farm into what The Field Illustrated in March 1920 called “Vermont’s finest.” It eventually comprised fifteen hundred acres of fields, forty-eight hundred acres of woodland, a manor house, gardens, and an agricultural complex known for its Shropshire sheep, milking Shorthorn cattle, and trained sheepdogs. To achieve his vision for the farm, Martin relocated the river road (U.S. 2) to the south of his holdings and called architect Kelly and landscape architect Shurcliff from Boston. Kelly designed the spreading two-story house with low hipped roofs and immense flanking porches, mitigating the formality of its symmetry and classical details with exposed rafter tails, trelliswork, and wood shingles. He used similar materials, hipped roofs, and corner silos for an extensive, quadrangle-like barn complex that focuses on a two-story clock house with belfry and shingled dome that served as the estate’s creamery and office. Shurcliff, who would also design gardens for Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, established a terraced garden zone between house and farm buildings, framed by pergolas and drystone walls ranging up to six feet in height and shaped to control air movement and maximize sun exposure to temper the climate. The formal lower garden, adjacent to the manor house, incorporated shaped Korean boxwood hedges, which were a gift from Japan for assistance with developing a milking Shorthorn herd. The upper garden, reached by stone steps past a pool fed by five ram’s head waterspouts (a reference to a famous breeding ram on the farm), was developed in the early 1920s around a Tudor Revival garden house. This step-gabled structure is built of brick and stone and incorporates timbers salvaged from the seventeenth-century Ipswich, Massachusetts, courthouse, where a Martin ancestor had been convicted as a witch. The timbers are supported by animal-head corbels carved by the Bromsgrove Guild in Montreal. Other Arts and Crafts touches include leaded windows and a carved wooden frieze of snakes, squirrels, and other animals that adorns the facade.
In 1938 Goddard College purchased Greatwood and adapted it to serve the needs of a progressive institution that stresses a combination of individualized learning and practical experience. The barns were converted for academic and dormitory use according to plans developed by Jens F. Larson and supervised by Freeman, French, Freeman. A successful provider of alternative education in the 1960s, in 1970 Goddard established an architecture program under John Mallery and David Sellers that was conceived to teach design without drawings. Its first project was a student-built design center. Working with a foundation, an evolving quarter-inch model, and an array of salvaged windows, the forty-person collaboration constructed a multilevel building with shiplap siding, a corrugated roof, and a skylit widow’s walk–for twenty-six thousand dollars. The next project, the sculpture building, was executed with plywood box beams and bents and acrylic glazing. It was planned as the beginning of a five-hundred-foot-long complex of classrooms and studios joined by a bridge, off of which students could hang their own cubicles. Variously called “organic” and “junk,” the project was recognized internationally as the epitome of improvisational self-design.
Old Stone House (Athenian Hall)
1834-1836, Alexander Twilight. 109 Old Stone House Road, Brownington village, Orleans County
Athenian Hall, one of the most intact institutional structures of its era, stands as a remarkable creation of a remarkable person. Alexander Twilight, born of a poor black farming family in Corinth, worked through an indentureship and attended Randolph Academy. In 1823 he graduated from Middlebury College and is the first African American known to receive a college degree. He arrived in Brownington in 1829 to serve as its pastor and as principal of the coeducational Orleans County Grammar School. Recognizing the need to house boarding students, he reputedly built this dormitory at his own expense and solely with the aid of an ox. It is a four-story, thirty-room granite structure with ground-level classrooms, kitchen and cistern, student rooms on the second story, and top-floor assembly hall. Its stony gable front and monitor are reminiscent of mill buildings, but it also bears a kinship with Old Chapel, which was under construction at Middlebury College at just this time. The many chimneys serve a fireplace in the kitchen and fifteen small charcoal fireplaces in student rooms.
Almost at once the grammar school had competitors elsewhere in the county. In 1836, Twilight sought election and went to Montpelier, determined to protect the school’s chartered resources. Serving until 1838, he was the country’s first African American state legislator. Twilight ran his school until the 1850s, when he was succeeded by Samuel Reed Hall, a pioneer in teacher education and promoter, if not inventor, of classroom blackboards. In 1859 the school closed its doors, later passing into private hands and never again occupied above its ground floor. As a result, when the Orleans County Historical Society acquired it as a home for their collections in 1916, it was essentially intact. Today it is a National Historic Landmark that opens to the public seasonally.
1893, Henry Rutgers Marshall. 481 Kipling Road, Dummerston, Windham County
One of the finest and best-preserved Shingle Style houses in Vermont is the residence that Rudyard Kipling named Naulakha (Hindi for “a thing of great value”). Kipling’s association with the Balestier family of Brattleboro first brought him to Vermont. In London he had married Caroline Balestier, sister of American writer and publisher Wolcott Balestier, with whom he had collaborated on The Naulahka: A Story of West and East (1892). On a honeymoon visit to his in-laws, summer visitors who had become full-time residents, the reclusive writer was taken by the sense of peacefulness and solitude that had already begun to draw artists and writers to Vermont. He acquired eleven acres of family property across the Dummerston town line, with a wooded backdrop to the west and views of Mount Wantastiquet and Mount Monadnock to the east. Here, Kipling decided to build a house that merged the distinctive qualities of the Indian bungalow with those of the American Shingle Style. He worked closely with his architect, Marshall of New York City, who was a Balestier family friend.
The simple mass parallels the contours of its hill, two-and-a-half stories atop a basement of fieldstone salvaged from stone walls on the property. It is approached from the north on the western (uphill) side, which is given over almost entirely to circulation. The rooms open to the view through inset verandas and polygonal bay windows on the elevated, and thus more private, east front. Small angled dormers in the hipped slate roof light a top-floor billiard room. Kipling described the house as a ship, the kitchen and servants’ quarters at the northerly stern, a two-story piazza that opened from his study and the master bedroom at the southerly prow. Beyond that a sunken formal garden led to the “long walk,” which terminated at a summerhouse of shingled pavilions joined by a Doric pergola. Besides its provision for privacy, the house was also personalized through interior relief sculpture by Kipling’s father, who was a professor at the British School of Art in Lahore.
The Kiplings considered this their favorite home, but they occupied it for only a brief time. Their daughters were born here, and here, protected from intruders by his wife, Kipling wrote the Jungle Books (1894, 1895), Captains Courageous (1896), The Seven Seas (1896), and The Day’s Work (1898). After a spat with his in-laws turned humiliatingly public, Kipling returned to England in 1896. The house and most of its contents passed to the Holbrook family, who, with the exception of small modifications (now largely removed) by the same architect, maintained it much as it was under the Kiplings. In 1992 the British-based Landmark Trust, a charitable foundation that restores and operates historic properties, acquired Naulakha as its first American building. Today the building is available for short-term rentals and is open for tours on annual public days. The house was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1993.
AND ONE THE YEAR AROUND:
St. Johnsbury Athenaeum
1869-1872 library and 1872-1874 art gallery, John Davis Hatch III with Lambert Packard. 1171 Main Street, City of St. Johnsbury, Caledonia County
Sited at the bend of Main Street, the Athenaeum is a building of many distinctions. This National Historic Landmark was the most expensive private building in Vermont at the time of its construction, one of the state’s earliest Second Empire public buildings, one of the first endowed public libraries in the United States, one of the earliest with open stacks, and the oldest unaltered art gallery in the United States. The project’s benefactor was industrialist Horace Fairbanks, who wanted to enrich the intellectual and cultural life of his community through the library as an institution and through architecture that embodied the progressive tastes and techniques he encountered during business trips to New York. It is the only extant documented building of New York City architect John Davis Hatch III, best known for Greystone, a Second Empire mansion in Yonkers, New York, that was razed in the 1950s. A founding member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), Hatch was an advocate of timber framing with masonry infill and of advanced ventilation systems with rooftop monitors, both of which he employed at the Athenaeum. His drawings for the building are preserved in the Athenaeum’s collection.
The library was built first, a massive three-by-five-bay timber-framed, brick-veneer structure with a dressed granite base and a steep mansard cap of imbricated slate. It has two principal floors, library below and public hall above, marked respectively by segmental-arched first-floor windows and tall round-headed wall dormers in the mansard roof above the weighty bracketed cornice. A stocky, projecting entrance pavilion is capped by a double mansard, now shorn of its original cast-iron cresting and flag pole. Heavy concentric Romanesque arches with a keystone that helped support a front balcony (removed 1956) framed massive oak-paneled doors (replaced but conserved), giving onto a Minton-tile-lined vestibule with a grand carved staircase. This opens to a suite of well-preserved reading, book, and office spaces with interior detailing by Packard, who oversaw the building’s execution. The sixteen-foot-high rooms are filled with floor-to-ceiling bookcases with galleries and spiral staircases in ash and walnut (the upper levels were added in 1882 and 1892), original reading tables, and gas chandeliers that were converted to electricity in 1901.
The art gallery was built between 1872 and 1874 as a wing to the rear of the library. Hatch designed it as a setting for Albert Bierstadt’s largest painting, the 10 x 15–foot Domes of Yosemite (1867), acquired by Fairbanks through the architect’s brother. It is a cruciform-shaped room with black walnut woodwork and cases, illuminated by a forty-foot-high skylit ceiling on iron and wood trusses and a gas-fueled lighting frame (since electrified) suspended fifteen feet above the floor. Filled salon style with a large collection of late-nineteenth-century American and European sculpture and paintings, assembled by the Fairbanks for this purpose, the interior preserves the experience of a Victorian-era art gallery.